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Who should resign?

August 29, 2014

Up and down the country under-aged vulnerable young people, mostly girls, were abused by criminal gangs and were ignored and not taken seriously for many years when they came forward with their allegations, allowing the criminal activity to go on for much longer than if swift action had been taken.

Rotherham is the latest Council area where serious failings to protect vulnerable children have been exposed. Of course everybody is distressed and appalled. We want to get at somebody responsible. ‘A head should roll!’ We cry. But is this the right response?

If anything, the ‘Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham’ concludes that the failure were not failures of a few individuals but collective failures by different agencies and many people: ‘the Police gave no priority to CSE, regarding many child victims with contempt and failing to act on their abuse as a crime’; between 2002 and 2006 there were three reports known to the Police and the Council, which ‘could not have been clearer in their description of the situation in Rotherham, but the first ‘was effectively suppressed because some senior officers disbelieved the data it contained’ two others ‘were ignored and no further action was taken’. ‘Seminars for elected members and senior officers in 2004-05 presented the abuse in the most explicit terms. After these events, nobody could say ‘we didn’t know’.

So why are we only gunning for one ex- councillor? (apart from the Leader of the Council, who has now resigned) Where these two the  only ones who failed in their political responsibilities ‘at the time’? What about cabinet members now, since the report clearly states that the Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham continues to this day?  Or indeed the collective responsibility of all councillor since every councillor is a corporate parent and responsible for every child in council care.
And what about the countless managers in Children’s Services over the years, ‘who took no action’, what about the Heads of Service? What about Council Chief Executives? What about their professionalism and leadership?
What about police officers?

Is it actually possible to find the one or two people with whom the buck does stop?
I worry that having one or two scapegoats is missing the point. It smacks of a symbolic act that allows everybody else to walk away from their part of the responsibility. What we need is a culture change, including open and transparent process, functioning working relationships between officers and councillors and most importantly a willingness to take responsibility at every level. Protecting vulnerable young people from horrific crimes is a massive task. A retrospective blame culture won’t do it.

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